TV Game

Streets of Rage 3

TV Game

Normally, I like to start these posts with an intro that sets the tone for the rest of the piece. This time, I’m not doing that. Instead, I’m just cutting right to the chase: Streets of Rage 3 fucking sucks. A terrible sequel to an all-time classic. It’s way too difficult, enemies have ludicrous amounts of health and become tedious to fight, it looks worse with terrible use of color, and the game just feels unfinished, as if a bunch of things that should be in it aren’t. Not worth your time. End of review.

Anyways, I lied when I said I wasn’t doing a tone setting intro.

Streets of Rage 3 is bad. However, the Japanese release, Bare Knuckle 3, is among the best games on the Mega Drive. Hell, I think it’s a better game than Streets of Rage 2, a universally beloved game that is on every top 10 Mega Drive list. I think the reason why I love this game so much is that Ancient, the developers, did not play it safe. They could have simply made Streets of Rage 2 again, but with different levels. Instead, seemingly everything about the game feels like a risk. Gone are the bright colors and cartoon-like characters set to smooth dance music. In its place are darker tones, dirtier, more realistic sprite work, with loud and abrasive music that sounds less like a game soundtrack and more like the soundtrack to an anxiety attack; the kind of sound you only dance to at a club after being given some bad Molly, your clothes sticking to you because you are sweating out of every individual pore in your body, and you need a friend to step in and pull you off of that floor right now before something bad happens to you.

The shift in tone between the two games is apparent right from the beginning.

This is a cool game with a lot of style that does things on its own terms, which is why I like it. I like all the stuff I mentioned above. I like how the game goes even deeper into including sci-fi elements, drastically increasing the number of robots and cyborgs and dudes with jetpacks. I like the fact that the roster of playable characters include a kid on rollerblades, a cybernetic old man with a ridiculous Fu Manchu mustache, and a fucking kangaroo (there’s another playable character I like, but I’ll get to him later). It’s fun as hell to walk left to right, punching dudes in the face. Side-scrolling Brawlers get a bum rap in this day and age, but I fucking love them. There’s a slight modicum of depth added this time around, with you being able to run to close the distance on enemies, as well as roll up or down to avoid attacks or projectiles.

So yes, the Japanese version of this game rules. What makes the international version so bad? Well, that’s easy: whoever was in charge took a big knife and butchered the shit out of the game. Actual bad localization, not today’s “bad” localizations, like a medieval fantasy character saying “thou” in Unicorn Overlord or some shit.

It’s one thing to make changes because something in the game was pretty fucked up, or if it had to meet a standard set by an outside entity (the ESRB was starting up around this time). Sega had just dealt with a complete sham of a senate hearing, and I can’t imagine they were in a hurry to get back to the floor. But none of these changes make any real sense. Characters had the colors of their clothing changed for no real reason; it’s not like Axel wearing a white shirt and blue jeans or Blaze wearing an all-red ensemble was some sort of social problem. Voice samples were changed, also for no reason. For example, Axel’s running attack no longer involves him yelling out “GRAND UPPER!!” instead mumbling out “bare knuckle…” like someone doing a terrible Batman impression. The difficulty was jacked up, with enemies being given drastic HP increases. After all, you can’t have kids renting the game and finishing it in a single weekend! Except for the fact that Streets of Rage 3 is still short enough to finish in an hour, even if it’s still a harder experience, and if people find the game too hard, then they’re not going to buy it for real. It’s just one of those stupid things Sega of America loved to do: kill a games’ long-term longevity in favor of short-term profits. There’s a ton of plot removed from the game; the Japanese version opens with the villains carrying out a terrorist attack, something that goes a long way towards explaining the games’ new darker, grittier look.

Worst of all, there’s a whole character missing. Let me introduce you to Ash:

I love Ash. This flamboyant Leather Daddy hits like a fucking truck, has a cool design, and has some fantastic sprite work. Now, the common story is that Ash was removed due to being a potentially offensive gay stereotype. I think that’s bullshit. This was the 90s, when you could still say “faggot” on TV and make a million “gays are gross” jokes without any consequence, there is a zero percent chance some executive would care about the feelings of another human being enough to make this cut. Besides, the real homophobia here is that Ash is a playable character, and when you finally unlock him and try him out, you realize he has a really shitty, limited movelist and kind of sucks to play as. He can’t even attack while jumping! What a shame.

The reason why I bring up all the stupid changes made from Japan to the US is because it led to a lot of people, myself included, thinking that Bare Knuckle 3 was not a good game. The game had a horrible reputation! Honestly, it still kind of does. It was only once I finally got into emulation in my teen years and got to play the original experience that I realized what I was missing out on. I said it earlier, I consider this to be the best in the series, right up there with the somehow-better-than-expected Streets of Rage 4. Again, this is one of the best games on the Mega Drive, and you owe it to yourself to not fall into the same trap I did and believe otherwise.